How to write a lab report and evaluate one for Life Science students
It may seem completely alien at first, as it may be your first time writing a scientific report. But believe me, it gets easier the more and more you practice and with the more papers you read. You may be wondering where you can access published papers and the answer is google scholar. As a Life Science student you will become very familiar with google scholar and you will even start to become more critical of certain papers!
How to read and evaluate a scientific paper?
Now, it may seem simple - just read it! However, it is not as easy as just reading it like a book. The order in lab reports is quite unique. The story is given out in bits and it can be easy to forget what was previously said. It’s almost as if the report chops and changes topics. There is no ‘correct’ way of reading a report, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself. Some may choose to read it in the order it comes and then completely understand the topic. However, many undergraduates will need to read the report multiple times and will try to pick out the key points. For your first time reading the paper, I would recommend focusing on certain sections. To begin with, the title. Look at it carefully, the title should address the key focus of the paper. Next, have a look at who funded the research, we want to look out for funding bias. Bias leads to uncertainty as to whether the source is reliable or not. For example, if a paper was on ‘why alcohol is good for you’ and it is funded by Captain Morgan, we could argue the validity of this paper.
After checking for bias, we can then start reading the abstract, the abstract is essentially a summary of the whole paper. It ties in the key points of all the sections. The important thing to look out for is the aim, this is normally in the 2nd or 3rd sentence of the abstract. It should be clear what the aim is, if not, that is not your fault as the reader. Think carefully about the aim, you will need to evaluate whether they have answered the aim of the paper, if they have not, why? You will only find out about this as you read on, so do not worry about this just yet, but remember it for when you start reading the results section. It might be useful to annotate and highlight the paper as you go on. Pay attention to things that are regularly repeated, they are usually important!
Next, after reading the abstract, read the introduction. This introduces the topic and may give some useful background knowledge. Students usually like the introduction as it is probably the easiest bit to read.